Seven years after then-rookie catcher Brian McCann hit a three-run homer off Roger Clemens in his first postseason at-bat, he won’t be in the Braves lineup when they play St. Louis in Friday’s National League Wild Card playoff game.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez announced that veteran backup David Ross would start the Braves’ first postseason game since 2010 instead of McCann, who’s been slowed by a shoulder injury for much of a career-worst season.
“It’s one of those things where you feel [Ross] gives you a good chance to win a ballgame,” said Gonzalez, adding that McCann would play if the Braves win the Wild Card game and advance to a best-of-five division series against Washington. “I talked to him [Wednesday]. It was a good conversation. He understood. It’s tough for both of us, but he understood.
“Mac is a very important piece to our team, and he’s a warrior and he battles. But you feel that with Rossy back there, again, for one game.…”
McCann was an All-Star each of his first six full seasons before 2012, and a five-time Silver Slugger award winner regarded as the best-hitting catcher in the majors in recent years. His average plummeted this season to.230 with a .300 on-base percentage and .399 slugging percentage, his worst in each of those statistics for a full season and far below his .279/.351/.475 career slash line.
“I haven’t played the way I wanted to play, and Rossy’s been playing great,” McCann said. “That’s just the decision that he made…. I’ve been battling a shoulder injury for a while. Production hasn’t been where I need it to be to help the team win.”
McCann, 28, has a frayed labrum and cyst in his right shoulder, and two cortisone injections in the second half of the season provided only temporary relief. He said there’s a “good chance” he will have shoulder surgery in the offseason, but would wait for the inflammation to subside with rest after the postseason and have a dye-contrast MRI to see how much damage there is.
He has also been slowed by knee tendinitis that affected his mobility behind the plate and kept him out of the lineup for a couple of games, though McCann insisted the knee hasn’t affected his hitting.
His 20 homers were his fewest in a full season since his career-low 18 in 2007, and his 14 doubles, 67 RBIs, 121 games played and 487 at-bats all were career-lows.
Since the beginning of August, McCann hit .201 with two doubles, two homers, 11 RBIs and a .541 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 134 at-bats. In that same period, Ross hit .235 with four doubles, four homers, 11 RBIs and a .705 OPS in 81 at-bats.
“Brian McCann is not 100 percent,” Ross said. “That guy has done some things in this game that are second to none in this game. I’m going to go out there and do my best, put our best foot forward and play hard. But I don’t want to take anything from Brian McCann. He’s an unbelievable guy and teammate, and he’s got this organization and this team where they’re at this year.
“I’m definitely excited, don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to be playing in that game. But there’s a little bit of uncomfortable [feeling] seeing how Mac feels. Till I got a chance to talk to Mac. We talked, and now I’m full-bore. But at first it’s a little bit of a different scenario. Along with Mac being my teammate and an amazing catcher, he’s also a good friend of mine. So I wanted to make sure we talked.”
McCann said, “I wish I was playing, but I’m not. That’s it. Rossy’s been playing unbelievable. And I’m his biggest fan. He’s one of my best friends in the world. He’s going to play great. I hope I get in there somehow, maybe pinch-hit late. We’ll see.”
Ross is considered one of the best defensive catchers in the majors, and Gonzalez said the combination of him and Friday’s starting pitcher Kris Medlen, who has a quick move to first base, also would give the Braves a better chance to controlling the Cardinals’ running game. Ross and Medlen have always worked well together.
“I love Brian McCann, too,” Medlen said, “but throwing to Rossy — he almost kind of invents stuff in the middle of a game. Which kind of fires you up. I mean, you haven’t thrown a certain pitch the entire game, then when we need to make a pitch he’ll call an inside change-up to a righty and you’re, ‘Ok…you sure?’ It makes you want to execute it. It’s great. He sticks every pitch for you.
“He got in my face one time in Colorado my first year. He’s pretty intense when he gets the opportunity to catch. He’s great behind the plate and I’m super-happy about tomorrow, that he’s catching.”
However, make no mistake: If McCann was healthy and hitting like he did before this season, there’d be no question who’d be starting at catcher Friday. The guy with the .300 average, three home runs and eight RBIs in seven career postseason games.
“He’s banged up,” Gonzalez said. “And that’s why I mentioned the word ‘warrior.’ He’s been banged up for a while. God bless him. But again, a one-game series, you go with Rossy. In a longer series, [McCann] is going to play. He’s not that banged up that he’s not going to play.”
BRAVES LINEUP for Wild Card game
1. Bourn cf
2. Prado lf
3. Heyward rf
4. Jones 3b
5. Freeman 1b
6. Uggla 2b
7. Ross c
8. Simmons ss
9. Medlen rhp